By Tony Hanson and Walt Hunter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams says a Grand Jury is now investigating corruption allegations against four state legislators and a former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge.
The allegations which Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to prosecute, citing in her words, “shoddy” work and possible “racial targeting”, involve possible illegal cash payoffs.
In May, Kane said she was dropping her prosecution of several Philadelphia legislators — accused of accepting gifts and money in exchange for political favors and votes — because the case was hopelessly tainted (see related story).
“The public deserves justice,” the DA told reporters, “I’m going to give it to them.”
“I won’t allow this case to disappear,” he continued, “there has to be accountability.”
The case was terminated despite what some observers thought was compelling evidence against the accused, including audio surveillance recordings. Among those critical of Kane’s decision was DA Williams. In response, Kane had offered to turn the case over to him.
But Kane reiterated that, in her opinion, the investigation was flawed for a number of reasons, including that that sting allegedly targeted African-American lawmakers only. She said the credibility of an informant was also called into question when he was charged in a fraud case.
Today, Williams said both the public and the accused lawmakers deserved justice, so he was picking up the case.
“I concluded the evidence was worth another look despite, or because of, all the controversy about this case,” he said. “In the end, the citizens of Pennsylvania didn’t have a clear answer to the most important question: did their public officials break the law by accepting payments for improper purposes?”
He said the secret grand jury probe is in a very early stage, and indictments, if any, would come later. He said the secrecy (by law) of the grand jury investigation would enhance his ability to get to the bottom of the case.
The four House members under investigation did not respond to requests for comment, but a spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus told CBS 3, “The House of Representatives will respect the Grand Jury process and provide any information if requested.”
Attorney Louis Busico, representing former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes, tells CBS 3 he is “not surprised” by the DA’s decision but adds that he believes his client will be “exonerated.”
The District Attorney says the 36 members of the Grand Jury will complete their investigation “in months, not years.”
The Grand Jury has the option of recommending criminal charges against some, all or none of those under investigation.
It can also issue a report recommending changes in the law or governmental procedures.
Finally, the DA revealed, the investigation will go beyond those who have been publicly identified so far, but he declined to provide specifics.